February 10, 2017

Welcoming the world, right where we are rooted

Written by  Nelson Okanya and the EMM Leadership Team

An Eastern Mennonite Missions statement in response to current events

Dear friends,

The past two weeks have been difficult in the United States. On January 27, 2017, the U.S. president issued an executive order that halted all immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. These directives have caused confusion, protests, and legal action, both nationally and internationally. Harsh rhetoric and divisiveness have become even greater themes in our nation.

This kind of division is not new. Several months ago, Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, received a hate-filled phone call from an alumnus of a Mennonite educational institution. The caller told Carlos to return to Mexico — although Carlos is an American citizen, born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Carlos’ story is just one of the — unfortunately — countless other stories of this kind of rhetoric. Currently, there are refugees who are hearing similar language along with stories of families being sent back to war-torn nations after having spent several years undergoing an extensive vetting process.

It can become easy for us to respond to these stories by simply not responding. In fact, it is often easier to say nothing. However, we are reminded of the biblical mandate of caring for others. Paul reminds us, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, NRSV). Over the past two weeks, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) staff have been asking the question, “How might the church respond … how should EMM respond to this current reality?” EMM’s prophetic mandate requires us to respond, especially in light of the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God.

We are reminded of the powerful words of the prophet Micah, where God brings a case against Israel. The Lord spoke strongly against His people with an admonition:

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:7–8, NIV).

Micah and the other prophets sought to remind Israel that they deviated from His ways. While the words of God spoken through Micah were directed to the Israelites, they continue to have meaning for the church today as we ask the question, “What does the Lord require of us?” The answer for Israel is the same for the church — to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Nearly two centuries later, God issued a similar proclamation because Israel still had not listened: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other” (Zechariah 7:910, NIV). The biblical imperative is clear on this issue: we are called to love all people.

As leaders of EMM, we declare our unwavering support for U.S. resettlement of refugees from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, we oppose the immigration ban from the seven Muslim-majority nations. We stand in solidarity with several other Anabaptist and Christian organizations who hold a similar posture on this issue. We invite you to walk alongside EMM as we continue to look to the interest of others. Here are a few ways that you can take action with us:

As an organization focused on the Great Commission of witnessing to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), our ministry has always required us to cross borders and engage different cultures. At times, this work is challenging, but it is rewarding work … it is kingdom work. We will continue to be a people committed to going throughout the world. We are also committed to welcoming the world, right where we are rooted.

Humbly in Christ,
Nelson Okanya, EMM president, and the EMM Leadership Team